Atmosphere and referees!

This is a two-part blog post, the first dealing with the lack of atmosphere in the Olympic Stadium and the second dealing with what I think of Romain Poite.

So, the atmosphere? What atmosphere? Leading up to the France/Romania match I was really excited to be heading back to the Olympic Stadium. The area was buzzing, the (few) pubs were busy and it is an impressive arena.

Inside, the concession stands were plenty and varied, albeit expensive and with staff etiquette a little on the “don’t give a f***” side of polite.

And then the seats? It’s clear this stadium was never designed for conversion to a rectangle playing area. The added seats were hotch potch in their placement and there were even seats which couldn’t be accessed. I assume these can be used still for athletics, but we all know that’s hardly going to be a regular occurrence.

The pitch of the seats is very shallow, making the arena seem very spread out. As a result, you feel so far removed from the action. Twickenham is bigger, but it was built as a rugby stadium. The stands are big, they’re steep and they’re imposing. Even from the back row you have a great view, almost looking straight down on the action.

On more than one occasion La Marseillaise started up, and faded into the evening air. Straight into the clouds. Ditto with Allez les Bleus. In fact, the only thing that carried around the OlyStad was the bloody Wave.

Seriously, stop it already with the Wave.

There was a plus side to this though but it’s from a football perspective: when West Ham move in here, whatever atmosphere they might have at the Boleyn Ground, will die. Not so much Blowing Bubbles, as popping them mid-song. Good luck Hammers, perhaps your paid-by-taxpayer stadium won’t be quite as good for you after all!

____________________________

  Can you guess what lasted 12 minutes last night? Minds out the gutter for one second, and think rugby.

12 minutes was the time the ball was in play during the 2nd half of the NZ v Namibia match at the Olympic Stadium. Twelve. A dozen, and not even a baker’s one.

According to this article, the average time in play at the last World Cup was 35 minutes

So we should’ve expected a solid 18 minutes or so in the second half. But TWELVE?

And who to blame? The referee, Romain Poite, or (let’s not sugar coat it) Namibia and their lack of skill?

In a World Cup where the Tier2 nations have battled hard, from Canada to Japan, I don’t want to belittle the hard work of the Namibian team. The first half was brave, they fought at the breakdown, tackled hard and did all you could expect of them.

The problem was that at almost every scrum, their technique let them down and as a result the fans got a disjointed match, particularly the second half, and NZ were frustrated.

And what of Poite? He seemed unwilling to make the tough calls in an area he’s strong at. He allowed the Namibians to slow the scrum down, let them get away with not binding properly and just resetting. A couple of times he gave NZ free-kicks at the scrum as Namibia lost control. And what did NZ do? They picked another scrum. At times there were minutes between any action taking place. Minutes doesn’t sound long, but in a game which is short enough, minutes count.

He could have given penalties instead of free kicks. He could, and should, have sent someone to the bin. He could’ve taken some responsibility and taken control. In a way, it was like he was conscious of the one-sided nature of this affair and tried to “help” Namibia not get a thorough pasting.

It wasn’t just there, though. The TMO was again out in force, for seemingly easy decisions. The line judge, right there, couldn’t tell if a foot was out when NZ scored so Poite went to the TMO. The referee was right to use the TV official, but you have to question why we bother with line judges if they can’t tell whether a foot is about a half a meter inside the whitewash! As if to compound that situation, the TMO decided to check for an offside about 4 phases earlier in the move, too, and repeatedly watch a phase of play where it was clear to all that nothing had been amiss.

The Barnes school of TMO use needs to be taken on board. I’m far from his biggest fan but he handled himself superbly, whilst better refs, like Poite, have let themselves down, almost scared to make ANY calls, let alone the tough ones.

World Rugby have to address this. If you want to attract new markets, and they supposedly do, then you have to address the scrums. Most long term viewers don’t understand the dark arts of the front row, so how will new viewers? When you have extended breaks in play for no apparent reason new viewers, and old, will switch off. Even I left early. I couldn’t take any more of the Poite Show.

How about this: keep the free kicks for the minor infractions at the scrum, but don’t allow a scrum restart. A free kick needs to be a “tap and go” restart. It won’t be perfect, but it gets the game moving straight away. Also, you’ll maybe have 16 players still bound so you might encourage some inventive back moves. You know, running rugby and tries. What we’ve all paid to see.

For now though, I’m hoping for better today in Gloucester. With two strong packs I’m hoping for a strong referee!

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